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La Jolla donor makes $50 million research gift to UC San Diego and USC

Daniel and Phyllis Epstein made a $50 million donation for Alzheimer's research that UC San Diego and USC will split.
(Courtesy of Julie Bronstein)

The two universities will split the money and use it to study Alzheimer’s disease.

A La Jolla philanthropist has made a $50 million donation for Alzheimer’s research that UC San Diego and USC will split. The gift is meant to spur collaboration between the two universities, which are national leaders in that field.

Daniel Epstein, who graduated from USC and has donated millions to both schools, made the new gift Jan. 24 in hopes of speeding up the development of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s, a disease that recently killed his twin brother, David.

“We experienced firsthand the significant challenges that come with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” Epstein said in a statement with his wife, Phyllis. “The fact is that there are no viable treatments for this condition.”

In 1991, UCSD founded the Alzheimer’s Disease Collaborative Study, a group that works with scientists around the world to seek ways to battle the neurological disorder.

The program prospered. But trouble surfaced in 2015 when the program’s director, Paul Aisen, took control of research data that involved more than 1,000 patients and about $90 million in federal and private funding and moved the core of the project to a new USC research center in San Diego.

Aisen said he made the move because UCSD was not giving the program all the resources it needed.

UCSD considered the move to be a raid by USC, which had been trying to establish a significant research presence in San Diego County.

The La Jolla campus and the UC Board of Regents sued USC in San Diego County Superior Court, claiming that the Los Angeles school had unlawfully wrested control of its program.

The matter was settled in 2019 when USC agreed to pay UCSD $50 million and publicly apologized for the way it took control of the program.

Dr. David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences at UCSD, said Jan. 24 that the university “is delighted to have the new donation from the Epsteins, and if something good comes out of this between the two schools, so much the better.”

“We do tons of collaboration with USC and there is a lot of love between individual scientists,” Brenner said. “The [lawsuit] was an institutional problem.” ◆